Saturday, September 25, 2010


((77 — Distant Lights))
July 2nd, 802 AT.

The wan voidlight illuminated a tired scene. Kiara still lay unconscious on her coat, with Umbra standing guard over her. Not far off, Noh’s fog had gone opaque hours earlier, after the surgery. Chun was curled up in a ball on top of Torrential, who was lying down with his beak under one wing. Reno was the only one awake, pacing uncomfortably, absent-mindedly spinning her crystal dagger through her fingers.

Spider stepped out of Noh and walked back to the group, holding her arms. She looked older now, her eyes grave and heavy with dark circles. Scorpia scuttled up behind her.

Seth emerged from the dark shadows of his demon behind her, and cleared his throat a bit. “Yo. Guys.” He glanced around. “Err. Gals. Whatever. Someone wanna wake Chun for a tic?”

A faint groan came from Kiara, as she raised her head slightly, looking around, finally starting to wake up. Umbra curled up next to her, still in gryphon form.

Seth sighed at the complete lack of action from his fellows. “Alright. I will myself.” He trudged over to Chun and prodded her with his foot.

Torrential was the first to stir. He lifted his head, in doing so knocking Chun tumbling to the ground. She sat up, abruptly very awake. “Whu—oh, hey guys.”

Kiara sat up a little further, resting on one elbow. Umbra flowed under her, stabilizing her. “Anything… happen, while I was out?”

Spider shook her head. “Not really. We can’t stay here forever, though.” She glanced over at Seth.

“…yeah,” he said. “But ‘fore we go. One, uh, minor note.”

“What?” Kiara asked tiredly.

“What just happened back there? Let’s not do it again.”

“Agreed.” Chun got up and brushed herself. Beside her, Torrential mimicked her, ruffling his feathers.

“The whole killing people who thought we were demons thing. It’s… that was not good.” Seth looked off to the side. “There’s gotta be a better way to go about things than… doing what I did. And what that caused you guys to do.”

Reno shifted her eyes upwards. “Well,” she said. “They DID try to kill us. So it’s justified.”

“So, uh.” Spider cleared her throat, and changed the subject quickly. “I figured it’d be safer if we didn’t go charging in with our demons. I think I should fly in first, and try and talk with them. Maybe get a map and find a place for you guys to enter without being spotted, or provide a distraction.” She shifted her feet, obviously a little uncomfortable with this half-formed plan.

Kiara frowned. “And why wouldn’t they just… shoot you, Spider? That’s what they tried before.”

“Well, they’ll wonder how I got to the base, but I won’t have a demon with me.”

“Well, duh.” Kiara blinked at Spider in confusion. “But how do you plan to get in without using your demon?”

“Uh…” Spider scratched her head. “I can fly.”

“Oh. Good… good point.” Kiara closed her eyes, fading back into sleep somewhat.

Spider laughed half-heartedly. “Guess she’s a little more out than she thought… anyway, you guys can NOT bring your demons into the base. It’ll cause a panic, and it’s likely that you’ll just kill everyone. We can’t do that.”

“Yeah,” said Chun. “But someone will see us coming on our demons. It will cause panic either way.”

“You guys don’t come in on demons!” Spider said. “I’ll go alone. Find a way for you guys to come in without being noticed.”

“I’m with Spider on this one, yo,” said Seth. “Worst case, we bring in the cavalry. As a backup.”

Reno tensed a little. “How long do you think we’ll be separated from our demons?”

Spider looked to Seth for support. “Shit, I don’t know. Either you guys wait here, or I bring you without your demons, which will take a while to go back and forth.”

Kiara sat up again, rousing. “Mine can hide… if she chooses. She can help. And… I’ll need her to walk.” She glanced uncomfortably down at the stump of her leg.

Seth glanced away. “We can help you move, Kiara. Actually… perhaps we can use that as an excuse to get in.”

“I was just thinking that!” Spider said.

Kiara raised an eyebrow skeptically. “Explain…?”

Seth half-grinned at Spider, then turned to Kiara. “People see injured person. We get help. They’re much less likely to be suspicious. We’re much more likely to get in… without incident.”

“So we’re using Kiara’s injury as our ticket in?” said Reno, as Caf came up behind her, nuzzling her.

Spider rocked back on her heels. “But we’ll be showing up at the base out of nowhere. We don’t exactly have a ship…”

“If more ships fly overhead we could hijack one,” said Chun.

“Uh.” Spider’s eyes widened. “We do have a ship. We have a ship that’s been in a recent accident.” She looked out at the Void. Sure enough, the ship they had damaged was still drifting, not far off. The gaping hole in its side made it list slightly to port, but other than that it was still functional. Spider jerked her thumb at it.

Seth grinned. “This just might work.”

Spider nodded. “Bet you I can get it working again if there’s any problem. We should still probably leave our demons here, so they don’t get detected.”

“Wouldn’t we still be noticed, though?” Kiara asked from the ground. “I would think they’d recognize their own ship.”

“Sector One is big, right?” Spider said. “And we have someone who’s seriously hurt. They might not pay close attention.”

“We could tell them that the crew valiantly saved us from demons but tragically died,” suggested Reno.

Seth nodded again. “It might not be perfect, but I think it’s our best bet.”

Reno was looking very apprehensive. It was clear that the idea of being separated from Caf was not an appealing one by any stretch of the imagination.

Noticing, Seth looked at her flatly. “Reno. You’ve got two options. Stay here with Caf, or come alone.”

Caf nudged Reno in the back. She turned around and looked her beloved in the eyes forlornly. The girl stood up and cupped Caf’s head in her hands, leaning their foreheads together.

Kiara rolled her eyes. “Anyway, let’s… rehearse our story in more detail. In case they ask. Also… we might be able to sneak one demon in…”

Seth furrowed his brow. “Is the risk worth taking, though?”

“I’m useless without Umbra, right now. Besides…” The demon slid into Kiara’s faint shadow, and faded into it. The shadow darkened, but the demon was quite unnoticeable. “She is a shadow.”

“Huh,” said Spider. “That is a cool trick. Okay. So, maybe we were flying our own ship, but it got attacked by demons. That’s what the other ship picked up on. They rescued us, but died in the process?”

“Drove the demons off?” Kiara said. “Or killed them?”

“I say killed,” Seth said. “That way they won’t go looking for them. If they think there’s an immediate threat, they’ll start looking, and maybe find ours. That is not what we want.”

“Okay, I’m going over to the ship to see if it’s still working. You guys finish up the story.” Spider fell upwards into the mist, heading towards the damaged the ship.

Reno withdrew from Caf, suddenly looking steady of mind. “So why were we out here?”

“Refugees from Four,” Seth said.

“We should get going,” Chun said quietly. “If we arrive too late they may get suspicious.” Without another word, Torrential hopped to the edge of the crystal and took off towards the ship, Chun on his back.

“Let’s move.” Seth jumped up onto Noh and followed Chun. Umbra and Caf lifted off close behind, carrying Kiara and Reno. They approached the bullet-shaped ship, and one by one stepped off of their demons, through the massive rend in the side of the ship. Chun saluted Torrential, who flew back down. Caf and Noh, though, stayed alongside the ship for the moment.

Spider was inside, bent over the controls. “It’s all working here still, thankfully.”

Seth glanced around. “Any recent journals?”

“Umm…” Spider started to check the bookshelf, then remembered that she couldn’t read. “Uh, take a look.”

Umbra flowed into the space under Kiara’s stump, becoming a shadowy leg. Slowly, Kiara made her way to the bookshelf and pulled down the most recent journal. The last update had been about a week earlier, and was just a quick few notes on an uneventful few days of patrolling. Kiara nodded. “Good. Nothing.”

“Alright, let’s go then.” Spider moved towards the controls. “Um. So. Not that I don’t technically know how to fly a ship, but… does anyone else know how to fly one better than I do?”

“I can get by, but I’m not very good,” Kiara said.

Spider shook her head. “You’re really out of it, Kiara.”

Seth flicked a hand, and Noh drifted away towards the crystal they’d been on. “I’ll take it from here.” He stepped to the controls and sat in the pilot’s chair. “All ready?”

Reno took one last look at Caf. Nothing was said. It was all in their eyes. Reno clenched her hand ever so slightly before releasing it again. "Ready."

Kiara braced herself against the bookshelf. “Ready.”

Spider nodded. “Yeah. Let’s do this.”

Seth cracked his knuckles, grinning. “So uh. It’s been a while since I last did this. This should be go.” His hands flicked a control, and the ship accelerated at an uncomfortable speed, lurching heavily to one side.

Kiara stumbled and fell, despite her bracing. She seemed to give up on standing at that point and plopped down on the floor. Umbra disappeared into her shadow.

Chun laughed uproariously as the ship continued to rock and shake. “This is FUN!”

Spider was unmoved by the motions of the ship. “So, right, what’s the rest of our story—” She shut up quickly as the radio on the control panel beeped loudly. Seth barely managed to stifle an ironic laugh.

A male voice came from the radio. "Astartes, Astartes, this is Sector One, do you read?" The words were followed by a half-masked yawn.

“Hey,” Seth replied. “This isn’t Astartes but, uh, we read. Unless Astartes is this ship, in which case… yeah.”

“… you’re… yeah, Astartes is…” The man on the other end sighed. “You know what, I don’t even care.”

Spider glanced at Seth. She stepped from the wall to normal gravity and walked to the console. “We need help, one of our crew members has been really hurt!” She tried to sound as panicky as possible.

“Yeah? Lemme guess, refugees from Sector Four? Stragglers?”

“That we are,” Seth said.

“Well, all of the landing fields are full. Courtesy of the other refugees. Should still be room on the roof of Tanique Hall, though.”

“Spiffy. I can see this ending smoothly already.” Seth rolled his eyes.

“Listen. I’ve directed something like a hundred and fifty refugees ships in the last forty-eight hours. And gotten a grand total of oh… six hours of sleep. Maybe.” The radio operator’s voice was frustrated. "So if you would kindly just shut up and go where the data points you..."

“At least you have two legs,” Spider snapped.

The radio broke into what sounded like static, which quickly resolved into a cracking, coughing laugh.

Spider ignored it. “One of our crew, not so much. Can you send someone to help?”

The laughter trailed off, but the voice now carried a tone of bitter sarcasm. “Yeah, I can totally spare a medic for your injured friend. By which I mean nope, sorry. Between the refugees and the riots, all the hospitals are jam-packed or shut down entirely.”

Seth muted the mic for a moment. “At least no one will be suspicious of us getting in.” He flipped it back on again. “Alright. Let’s just land this thing.” As if on cue, a green light winked on on the console.

“Did you get the telemetry data?”


“Fan-fucking-tastic. Sector One so very over and out.” The radio crackled off.

Seth laughed. “Riots, eh? This might be easier than we thought. That, or very, very messy.”

“Wow. This place sounds lovely,” Spider snickered. “Bet no one really notices.”

Chun grinned. “You know? I almost want to show up on Torrential, just to add to that guy’s bad day.” Spider shot her a cold look, and she shrugged vaguely apologetically, then grabbed a random book off of the bookshelf and settled down to read it.

((78 — Unite))

Following the data, they slowly orbited the crystal. After about half an hour, the city came into view, nestled in its crevice between the massive crystal spires. “Nice,” said Reno with a chink in her voice that was most unlike her.

Chun jumped up and shoved the book in her bag, marveling at the sight. Spider helped Kiara to the window, and smiled as the younger girl pulled out her own notebook, and began sketching a rough image.

Spider admired the massive-scale architecture as the ship came in low over the city. “Impressive,” she said quietly. In several places, especially around the base of the crystal tower in the center, she could see large riot mobs. She looked away, turning to Seth. “You guys don’t have any idea where your friend is being held captive?”

He shook his head as he brought the ship up towards one of the side spires. “Cyc told us about the prison at Sector One, The Complex, but nothing specific. He’s gotta be in there, but no clue where it is.”

“There’s gotta be a map somewhere in this city. Man, it is big!” She looked back out the window as their destination came into view. She smiled at the immense columns along its front, noting how they structurally compensated for the glass wall behind them.

One ship was already on the roof of Tanique Hall. It was a little larger than theirs, with a pair of engines on either side in rotating gimbals. Seth raised an eyebrow. “Great. A roof. Hope I don’t hit that other ship. Could get awkward.” He reached a hand up and brushed his red-tipped bangs out of his eyes.

“Don’t… crash…” said Reno, still with the unusual stutter in her voice.

Seth fiddled with the controls, trying to slow the already-shaky ship down a bit. It jerked its way down towards the rooftop, coming to rest… just above the roof.

“Aw balls.”

With a shudder, the engines cut out, and the ship dropped the remaining foot to the surface. It landed with a resounding crash, hitting and rolling slightly to one side.

“Oh woah!” Spider didn’t move, leaving her now floating a foot about the deck of the ship. “Uh, let’s get out. Now.” She pointed towards the hole in the side of the ship.

Seth nodded. “My work here is done.” He hopped off, blowing a kiss to the smoking wreckage as he did. Chun grinned, and jumped out behind him.

Kiara gritted her teeth, wincing with pain. “Someone want to help me?” Spider set herself down and walked to Kiara, offering an arm. Kiara took it, pulling herself to her… foot. Umbra slipped quickly into her shadow, and they awkwardly made their way down onto the roof.

Reno finally released the support bar she had been gripping, though it was not particularly clear whether this was because she had chosen to let go or because enough sweat had accumulated that her fingers simply slid off of it. She exited the ship, almost tripping over herself as she did.

“Want a hand there, Reno?” Seth actually seemed a little concerned.

“Yeah, that’d be great, Seth,” said Reno, reaching out an arm to him. Seth offered his own, and she rested her weight awkwardly against him.

Spider adjusted her grip on Kiara. “Right, we better get you someplace to rest… if they have any beds left.”

“I doubt they do… but that would be nice. I’d be good with a crutch, though, I think. At least for now.”

“We’ll find something of the sort,” Spider assured her.

Chun readjusted her backpack and slid her goggles over her eyes. “We should stick together, since there are riots.”

Spider nodded, and reached for the door in the small structure atop the roof. Just as she did, it swung open, and a small woman stepped out. Both started and jumped back in surprise.

The woman laughed slightly. “Sorry, I didn’t see you there.” She was dressed simply, in a long green overcoat tied with a plain belt. "Hello, you all must be the new arrivals. We got word there'd be another group landing here..."

“Hi,” Spider said nervously. “Uh, do you think you could help us out?”

“Of course, we’re happy to. We haven’t got much, but, well, no one thinks to go to a Library when there’s a crisis on, do they?” She let out another awkward laugh, tucking a strand of wild red hair behind her ear. “Sorry, where are my manners? I’m Delissa, one of the junior librarians.”

“Right.” Spider smiled slightly. “Um, I’m Spider.”

The girl raised an eyebrow over her thick glasses. “Spider, huh? What is it with you Sector Four folk and your animal names?”

“Anemal names?” Spider cocked her head. “Right, uh, we’re strange like that?”

Chun tried to look composed, which ended up with her looking like she was just frowning hard. “I’m Chun.”

Kiara smiled, though it looked a bit strained. She leaned a bit more exaggeratedly on Spider. “I’m Kiara.”

“Seth.” He waved a hand.

“R…Reno Corbonov.”

Spider glanced at Kiara, then back to Delissa. “Listen, our friend is hurt. Is there a place she could lie down? Or at least a crutch or something?”

“Of course, of course, let’s get you inside.” She gestured for them to follow her, and started down the stairs into the building. As she walked, she called up to them. "We've got a few spare beds in the living quarters here, there should be room for you."

Delissa led the Talons down a long corridor, passing a number of side doors. Eventually she came to one with the door hanging half-open, and pushed inside. She called out as she walked to the door. "Hello? Owl? Are you here?" When no answer came, she shrugged and walked the rest of the way in.

“Wait, wait!” Spider halted abruptly, causing Kiara to grimace in pain. “What? Owl? What?” She looked around, distressed and flustered, her hair seemingly more everywhere than normal.

The room inside was lined with fairly average beds and amenities—tables and lamps here and there. "Owl's the other girl staying here... her and her friend Skunk, but I think Skunk had to run off somewhere. They came in on the other ship on the roof." Delissa smiled, helping Spider lower Kiara into one of the beds. "Friends of yours from Sector Four?"

“Uh, yeah…there we just the two of them?”

Delissa nodded as she filled a glass of water from a faucet in the corner of the room, handing it to Kiara.

“Tch. Owl and Skunk I can deal with. It’s that other one.” Seth spat.

Spider pulled her mouth to the side and shrugged. “Well… I supposed I’ll see them at some point.” She looked at the others. “If you see Owl or Skunk tell them…” She paused the words on her tongue.

“Tell them what?” Kiara asked.

“Tell them… I’m here, I guess.” She looked down, and crossed her arms. “Anyway, we should get a map, that’d be great.”

“Yeah, uh. We need to… find our friend’s house,” Chun said slowly.

Satisfied that Kiara was settled, Delissa nodded. “Hold on, I’ll be back in a minute with one.

“Thanks,” said Chun as the woman ran out of the woman. She stood there, looking around the room awkwardly. It was fairly spartan, but not uncomfortably so.

Reno gently detached herself from Seth’s grip and sat down on another bed, rubbing her temples. Spider sat down, her legs and arms both crossed. She didn’t look like anything, face completely blank.

Seth dropped the remains of a cig from his mouth, leaned against the wall, and lit a new one. “So we get Cyc back. Then what?”

No one responded for a long minute.

Spider looked away from them all. “No one knows what to do,” she hissed under her breath.

Seth sighed. “One step at a time, then.”

The door pushed open again, and Delissa came in, holding a piece of paper. She handed the map to Reno, who was closest. “So where did you say your friend lived?”

“Um… did he specify a district?” Kiara asked from the bed, looking to Seth.

Reno handed the map off to Seth, who blinked. “I uh,” he started. “I think we can take it from here.”

Delissa shrugged. "Alright. I think I'm going to try to find Owl!"

“Great!” Spider perked her head up.

The librarian smiled warmly. "You want to come? She should still be wandering around the archives in the basement somewhere."

Spider looked around at the others. “Uh… I don’t think you guys need me. I can come back and keep Kiara company?”

“Your choice, Spider,” Seth said. “I know where I’m headed. Have an old friend to see.”

“Yeah… I guess I do too.” Spider grinned faintly. She stood up, and nodded at Delissa. “Yeah, let’s go find them.”

“Great! Come on.” She walked out of the door, motioning with one hand for Spider to follow. Spider did so, waving her friends farewell.

Chun looked at Kiara. “I should stay here with her. Make sure her condition doesn’t worsen again… besides, I can go looking in the library for any relevant medical books.

Seth shrugged, then turned to Reno. “That leaves us, then.”

Reno nodded, and pointed to a spot on the map in his hand. “There’s the Complex,” she said quietly. “Right at the base of the central spire.”

Seth grinned. “Then let’s book it. We’ve got a Cyclops to find…”

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


((83 — Sandsnake))
July 2nd, 802 AT.

Zebra looked out the window of the tram and sighed. Between the assassination of the Inner Chamber Council and Barret’s declaration of martial law shortly thereafter, the whole city was in a state of pandemonium. The streets below were full of rioting, and smoke rose here and there throughout the city.

Three days had passed since Kasby had stalked off to track down Jaz, and none of the rest of the crew had seen him. Of course, Barret had kept them busy, with hours upon hours of extensive debriefing. Her people had squeezed out every drop of information on Face and the Devourer Swarm the crew had.

Now, for the first time since their arrival, they were being allowed to leave the citadel. Certainly, they’d been given nice enough housing quarters atop the spire, but Barret had made it quite clear she didn’t trust them.

That morning Barret had informed them that one of the defensive platforms on the outer spires had been taken over by a group of rioters and dissenters, and she was sending them to get it back. She made it quite clear that the platform itself—and its massive gun emplacements—was considerably more important than the lives of any of the people inside, as far as she was concerned.

“Remind me why we care about this?” asked Zebra sourly.

Giraffe shrugged. “It’s not like we had much of a choice. She just kind of shoved us onto the tram.”

“I don’t like being a conscript!” said Goat.

Zebra nodded. “Me neither.”

“I’ve got a feeling we’re going to wind up joining those rebel-types,” Goat said hopefully.

“Yes, joining the group of unknowns and making an enemy of that woman is an excellent idea,” Zebra replied.

“Who wouldn’t get behind it?” Giraffe asked sarcastically.

“I didn’t say it was smart,” Goat said. “But we already don’t like her, right? We’re half-way to being enemies!”

“The other half being the part where she wants to get rid of us once she’s doing using us. I’d like to avoid that part, thanks.” Zebra didn’t even bother using a sarcastic tone at this point.

“In any case,” Goat said. “Let’s talk to them first. See why they’re trying to take things into their own hands."

Zebra shrugged and looked back out at the scenery, clearly losing interest. The tram car was taking them up along the edge of one of the three enormous crystal spires that formed the basis of the city. At this point they were high enough that there were no more buildings, just bare crystal. Up ahead, directly atop the peak, was a large building, heavily armored, with numerous large gun emplacements sticking out all over it.

((84 — Judgement))

The tram slid into the dock with a hiss of air and a whirr of gears. The door slid open, and a hail of bullets whizzed into the ground just outside it.

“Guys!” Goat called. “We don’t want to fight!”

“They have really big guns,” Giraffe said, crouching next to her chair.

Zebra shifted position, making sure none of her was directly in front of the door. “Which is why we’d prefer not to fight.”

Goat frowned, and watched as a woman strode out onto the platform. She was large and well-built, with a bandana tied around her otherwise-bare head, and a very big gun held in her one arm, braced against her chest. Two men and a young teen girl followed her out, all clutching similarly large weaponry, and all pointing them at the entrance to the tram.

Goat started to exit the tram, just as she the woman spoke loudly. "Don't let me catch one'a you movin' a muscle." To emphasize her point, she fired the gun a few times at the ground in front of Goat’s feet. “Ah! Nope!”

Goat disappeared. “Whaaaa!” he declared, from several yards in the air.

The woman looked up and scowled. She made a small hand gesture and the three people behind her immediately opened fire at Goat. The boy attempted to dodge, while falling. This was not particularly easy, nor successful. One of the bullets tore through his upper right arm, and another grazed his thigh. His landing was similarly unpleasant, as he thudded onto the top of the tram car with all the grace of a falling brick. “Aaaaargh!” he expressed, pain running through his system.

The woman growled at Zebra and Giraffe. "I say don't move, I mean don't move. I'm not fuckin' around here, kiddies."

“Wasn’t plannin’ on movin’, but thanks for the info,” Giraffe replied.

“Yeah, you got it,” said Zebra, raising two fingers in a mocking sort of salute.

“It was an—AAAAYYGRH—reflex!” yelled Goat.

“Now then,” the woman said flatly. “What exactly do you three think you’re doing up here?”

“Well,” Giraffe said, frowning. “We were wondering WHY exactly you were up here?”

The woman rolled her eyes. "We're up here 'cause the bigshots on the spire are getting themselves killed. We obviously can't trust anyone down there not to be a fuckin' demon."

Goat managed to wriggle his way up to a sitting position atop the tram car, despite the pain. “We were planning on talking peacefully!” He winced, one hand on his leg and the other on his shoulder, pressing on the wound. They were far from life-threatening, but they sure hurt a lot. “Hell, I was thinking we might even join you!”

"Yeh? Joinin' us? We're not some prettyboy club for you and your friends to just waltz in and join."

“That’s fine!” Goat shouted. “‘Cause now that I’ve got a bullet in my awesome leg, I don’t really like you anymore! ARGH!”

"Fine by me. We don't give a flyin' fuck 'bout anybody but us. We're gonna stay up 'ere, and shoot any blasted demons that try to come near us. Fuck th' rest of the city, they're on their own."

Giraffe leaned back against the chair she was sitting in front of. “Just wondering, how or what do you eat up here?”

"We brough' plenty a' foodstuffs. A few cratefuls on our way up,” the woman said defensively. The three behind her exchanged significant glances, but said nothing.

“Right, ‘cause you starving would just be bad,” Giraffe said sarcastically.

The woman took a step towards Giraffe, gesturing with her gun. "I don' think I asked for your advice, y' little punk."

“I don’t think I was giving it,” she bit back.

“On closer inspection,” Goat chimed in from atop the tram car. “There isn’t actually a bullet in my leg. My arm hurts like a bitch, though.” He glanced pointedly in the direction of the tower in the center of the city.

The woman rolled her eyes, catching the hint. “Lemme guess. Barret sent you.”

“Yeah,” said Goat. “But, her being a jerk, we’re not really here on her behalf.”

Giraffe nodded. “We’re jerks on our own time.”

“Jerk. Putting it lightly. Psychotic bitch is closer to it.” The young-looking girl took a step forward and reached for the woman's shoulder, but the man standing next to her caught her arm and pushed it down.

“Anyway,” Goat said. “I’ve got some advice. If you wanna disregard it, and get gobbled up by the—nngh—Devourer Swarm, fine by me.” He sat forward. “The demons that are coming eat everything. Including, but not limited to, what you fire at them. So these guns will pretty much just be good shooting down people like us who want to help you.”

“And why, exactly, should I believe you? Bullets did the trick on you just fine, seems like.”

“Well, that just proves I’m not a demon, doesn’t it? Also, ow.”

Giraffe stood up slowly, trying to look as nonthreatening as possible. “See, either you can shoot and kill or harm us and then die, or you can have us help you and maybe not die. Your choice.”

“We can be pretty helpful,” Goat added.

The woman shook her head slowly and unambiguously. “We’re not particularly interested in your help.”

Giraffe shrugged. “If you say so. Your dead corpse.”

“Pity,” Zebra said quietly. “I was so looking forward to getting to know you.”

“Now then.” The woman pointed the gun at them. “Are you leaving via tram or via gravity? Because it doesn’t particularly matter to me.”

Giraffe glanced to Zebra. “Tram good with you?”

“Really, it’s up to you,” Zebra replied. “I’m not even sure why I was sent on this mission.”

“Guys, gravity means falling,” Goat said from the tram’s roof.

“Well!” Giraffe said. “As much as I hate the trams, I was never a fan of falling.”

“Delightful,” the woman said. Without bothering to wait for Goat to get off the top, she shot the lever controlling the tram. The piece of metal snapped off in a blur of sparks, and the tram began to roll back down the way it came, away from the rebels and back towards the center of the city.

Friday, September 10, 2010


((73 — Duran Shoukan))
July 2nd, 802 AT.


“What?” Spider said blandly.

“That.” Seth jerked his head forward, indicating the massive crystal that comprised the center of the nebula. “The city. Well, crystal thing.”

He sat, as usual, in a floating crystal, part of Noh. Each of the Talons was arrayed around and behind him, riding their respective demons. Chun was still asleep, as it was yet early. The light had only just brightened, and no one had bothered to wake her.

“Wonder why it looks like that,” Kiara said quietly from her perch atop Umbra.

“It’s the heart of the thing, probably where all these other crystals came from.” Spider shrugged. “Maybe.”

Up ahead, something sparkled in the air between them and the crystal. Seth squinted, trying to make out whatever it is. As he watched, the single point resolved into a pair, growing larger.

Scorpia sniffed, reaching out to sense for any demonic energy. Spider, straddling her demon, looked as well. “Huh…”

Reno gazed almost lazily towards the approaching points. They grew larger, or came closer. Metallic, and approaching fast.

“Not demons,” Spider said, frowning, feeling what her demon did. “Uh… we’re riding demons, so… this should be interesting?”

“Those… ships?” Kiara said, raising her eyebrows. “I think we should get out of their way.”

“Probably not a bad idea,” Seth agreed, watching the pair continuing to grow closer. They resolved into a pair of approaching ships. “Yeah, let’s not get hit by those.”

“Going down,” Spider said, as she and Scorpia dropped downwards. Umbra and Kiara followed, with Seth descending close behind.

The ships dropped to match them. They continued towards them, maybe half a kilometer out. The one on the left was sleek and bullet-like, with its companion shaped like a tilted cross. Both were clearly heavily armed, with visible gun emplacements on the front.

“Well then. I guess we say hello to these fuckers.” Seth twitched. “Maybe one of them will have a pack…”

“Yup, they’re chasing the demons!” Spider said, zooming to the right to avoid the ships. “Maybe we should split up!” she called, not bothering to stop.

Reno and Caf furrowed their brows. “Huh,” she said.

Kiara coaxed Umbra forward, and she shot liquid shadow forward, trying to cover the viewports of the ships. They broke off, rolling in opposite directions to get out of the shroud.

The ships flew past the Talons, opening up with their machine guns as they did. A hailstorm of bullets streaked towards the teens.

“FuckfuckfuckfuckFUCK!” Seth threw his arm up in front of his face, and a sheet rose up out of Noh, between Seth and the oncoming fire.

The others dodged in various directions, darting out of the line of bullets, separating further. Below them, Torrential Black dropped away, almost out of sight, the sleeping Chun still on his back.

“Dammit!” Spider shouted. “I knew that was gonna happen!”

As they maneuvered, Caf stretched his mouth open wide and let out his own stream of bullets, using his power to copy the attack against him. The ship rolled, Caf’s bullets tracing down its side, leaving heavy dents. “Excellent,” said Reno quietly.

“Alright. Get ‘em, Noh.” He kicked his demon into full gear towards the x-shaped ship.”

Spider came to a halt and hovered for a second. “What are you guys doing!?” As she reached her peak, she saw the ships’ guns stop let up for a moment, apparently to reload. She flipped, and began to fly back down towards the others, Scorpia close behind.

The cross-shaped ship spun towards Seth, accelerating. Reno, watching, shook her head in frustration. “Get your ass into gear, Seth.”

As if in response, Seth dropped out of sight into the core of Noh. The demon then formed itself into a bullet-like shape, with a groove spiraling along it. “Ramming speed. Go,” Seth said quietly. Noh went.

“Are we seriously going to fight…” Spider watched Noh morph, and never finished her sentence. “Oh.”

The demon accelerated, and crystal met metal with a rending tear. Noh won. The creature tore through the ship, through wood and metal and cogs and flesh. It emerged out the back in a flash of shattered steel.

“Yes, Spider,” said Reno flatly. “We ARE seriously going to fight. And it looks like we’re winning.” There was something lacking in Reno's voice that was ever-present three weeks ago.

“I guess so!” Kiara called down, and then swooped in atop her demon. Umbra, still in gryphon form, went for the ship Caf had hit earlier. It spun its gun to point up at them, firing a blast of flame. A shroud of shadow covered the two of them, taking the brunt of the flame, but halting their dive, forcing them back.

Seth’s head popped out of the top of Noh. “Bitchin’.” He looked to where the ship he had smashed was falling slowly back down towards Sector One, and dove, chasing the debris. He looked for anything still alive, but the ship was a mess of sparking electronics. Nothing and no one had survived.

Spider hovered upon Scorpia, uncertain and waiting.

After a few moments, Umbra dove again, this time wrapping herself and her rider with a dense cloud of shadow. The ship fired a second time, but the flames washed harmlessly around the demon. They dropped alongside the ship, and Umbra landed on the side of it. Shaping one leg to have massive talons, she clawed viciously at the hull. The metal rent back, making an opening.

The pilot inside swore violently, jumping back. She fumbled on the wall, pulling down something akin to a shotgun, and blasted at Umbra point-blank with it.

Umbra screeched as the buckshot went through her shadows, then flowed through the tear, liquid-like, enveloping the pilot. “Fuck, shit, fuck, shit!” The woman cursed louder, but managed to get her belt pouch open. The slammed a crystal into the shadowy stuff around her.

Umbra shrieked louder and flew back, through Kiara, who was stepping forward into the ship. A large amount of her essence stayed behind, though, trapped in the crystal.

A ways away, Reno made the most microscopic of nods, and Caf flew in towards the ship to help.

Overhead, Spider looked around nervously. “Oh, shut up,” she said to no one apparent, and dove back down to the others. From outside, the ship was listing hard to port, smoke rising from the engines. Below her, Caf accelerated towards the ship, closing fast.

Kiara leaned forward, putting her weight into a punch that took the pilot square in the jaw. She staggered back, falling against the wall of her ship. “What the fuck!? Who the fuck are you?”

Kiara didn’t answer, instead drawing the knife from inside her coat.

The motion gave the pilot enough time to regain her grip on her shotgun, though, and she leveled it squarely at Kiara’s face. “You’re one of those demon assassins, aren’t you! Well FUCK YOU!”

Time seemed to slow, as a number of things happened very quickly.

Kiara’s eyes widened, and she lunged forward, slicing at the woman’s stomach.

At that moment, Spider and Scorpia both slammed into the top of the ship, with as much momentum as they could muster.

The ship shook hard to port, knocking both girls inside off balance. The woman stumbled forward, her motion taking her onto Kiara’s knife. The blade cut into her chest, splashing red blood out into the air.

With a resounding BOOM that reverberated through the metal of the ship, her shotgun went off. The buck shredded into Kiara’s left leg at the thigh, turning it instantly to mincemeat.

Caf stopped short in the air, launching Reno forward off of her back, targeting the hole in the ship. The crystal dagger slid fluidly out of its holster, and she tightened her grip as she brought her hand back.

“Bitch.” Clutching at her stomach, the pilot shoulder-rammed Kiara out towards the hole in the side of her ship. Her eyes widened as she saw Reno flying straight towards her. “Aw, fuck.”

As Kiara fell backwards out of the ship, Reno flew straight over her, slamming into the pilot. With only the slightest bit of emotion, she muttered, “die, you bitch.” Her knife swung forward as they hit the back wall of the ship, thrusting into the woman’s neck.

Blood spouted from the wound as the woman's eyes froze over in a bitter glare. The pilot tried to choke out a final word, only succeeding in a miserable gasp.

Reno lowered her face level with the pilot’s. “Don’t,” she said quietly. “Ever. Hurt. Our demons.” With one deft jerk, she pulled the dagger out of the pilot’s throat, and she collapsed in a heap against the metal floor of the cabin.

((74 — Nemesis))

Outside, Spider had darted down and caught Kiara before she could fall very far. “What the fuck happened!?” she asked in a frantic voice, lifting the other girl away from the ship.

Kiara just let out a stream of loud, violent curses as what was left of Umbra flowed around her leg, trying to staunch the bleeding. “Fucking shotgun!” she finished.

“Shit… why the fuck did she shoot you?” Spider held onto Kiara, but her eyes narrowed in something close to anger, or at least surprise. “Why the fuck were you trying to kill her?

“Because she tried to…shoot me…” Kiara’s voice came in short gasps, but she raised it to a yell for a moment. “Reno! Get her belt crystal!” She panted for a moment. “She damaged… Umbra…” Seeing Spider’s glare, Kiara winced and continued. “I was just going to knock… the bitch out…”

In the ship, Reno sighed at her bloody dagger. “Greeeat,” she groaned, leaning down to wipe the blood on its previous owner’s clothes. She picked up the crystal where it had fallen, then stepped outside onto Caf’s waiting back, floating up to join the others. As she left the ship, it continued to list to one side, beginning to fall back into the Void without power.

Blood gushed from Kiara’s hip. She couldn’t feel anything below it. She winced, going white with pain for a moment as Umbra spread out, enveloping her whole lower body.

“Hey,” said Reno, holding the crystal. “You wanted this?”

“Yeah,” Kiara said. “Break it for me? I’m not… in any shape to do it…”

“Sure thing,” Reno replied. She put the charged crystal on a metal part of her backpack, then touched her crystal dagger to it before violently swinging the blade up and then down again. The crystal shattered, taking a few chips of Reno's dagger with it.

Umbra's demon essence seeped out from the shards and floated back to its owner. She swelled and darkened, looking far more substantial than before.

"There," said Reno "That's one physically incomplete member of the team put back together again."

Seth rose back to meet the other Talons.“In retrospect, that was horribly unnecessary. But a fucking awesome test of might. We kick ass.”

Spider shot him a vicious glare, and whispered to Kiara, “Can Umbra hold you now?” The pilot nodded in response, and Spider gently leaned her back into the waiting shadow.

“Kiara,” Seth said, raising an eyebrow. “You look damaged.”

"My leg is... fucked." She said, looking down, Umbra shrouding it from view.

“Let’s land and get you somewhere we can fix that, yo. Or at least… make you not die. And such.” Seth looked away.

“Yeah, ‘cause they’ll really want to lend us med supplies!” Spider shouted.

“I’m sure… they have some on board…” Kiara said.

“Spider,” Seth said. “Can I talk to you for a moment?”

Spider jerked her head to the ship, motioning for Seth to follow. The two of them shot down to the drifting ship, and in through the hole in its side. Spider immediately began to scavenge for medical supplies.

“Look, Spider,” Seth said slowly. “I know what we did was completely fucked up. I realized it too late, though. Yes, those people were probably just trying to defend this city from what seemed like a demon invasion.”

“Don’t you dare say but.”

But… well, those two are dead now. We’ve gotta keep Kiara from joining them, and keep the rest of these folk,” he gestured up towards the other Talons, “ from realizing what we just did.”

Pulling open a box on the wall, Spider started shoving painkillers into her pockets. “You’re an idiot. If you don’t want the rest of the people to realize the consequences of what just happened, you have to be ready to take the blame for it.” She glanced at the pilot’s body. “Shit. Shit, Seth.” She raised her eyes to him. “You have no idea what you’re doing.”

“… it is my fault. I’m the one who charged them first.” He looked down. “Kicked into oh-shit-they’re-trying-to-kill-me-mode before I could think. That’s no excuse, though.”

Spider bit her lip, and shook her head. “It’s not,” she said, sympathetically. “You’re right, though. We have to get Kiara fixed up, and somewhere safe. Can we get to the city without attracting more attention? Maybe I should just bring her in…” She was focused now on the job at hand, and purposefully didn’t look at the body again.

Having taken what she could, Spider let herself drop sideways out of the ship, and back up to where the others were. Chun had joined them, presumably woken by Reno. “I got some bandages,” Spider said, passing them to Chun. “Take these pills, they’ll help the pain.” She extended her hand, holding three little blue tablets.

Kiara took them and dry-swallowed them with a grimace. “Thanks.”

Chun, riding Torrential as ever, leaned forward and winced at the blood. "That is WAY beyond saving. Shit, shit, shit.” She swallowed. “Kiara, we might have to cut your leg off.”

“I…” Kiara closed her eyes. “Yes. I realized that.”

“Come on,” Spider said. “Unless we get you to the city…”

Kiara shook her head. “Can’t… not in the city.”

“There are other crystals nearby.” Spider didn’t waste any time, heading off towards the nearest crystal. It was a little ways below them—a small dodecahedron, maybe fifteen meters along each edge. The other Talons quickly followed down.

Black landed long enough for Chun to jump off, then retreated to the edge of the crystal and perched. Chun took off her backpack and pulled her goggles down over her eyes. She rummaged through it and eventually pulled out what looked like an oversized scalpel, or very thin knife. Spider came walking up the slanted plane to her, holding the bandages and a bit of disinfectant from the ship.

Chun shook her head. “Spider, we can’t just bandage this, it is shredded. It will get infected if we do that… I think we should cut it off first, and keep as much skin as we can to stitch over the wound and make a stump.

“Uh, okay, I’ve never really done this before…” Spider looked around uncomfortably. “I might have a needle and thread, actually… don’t know what else would work better.”

“Never done this either… just read about it in theory.” Chun kept her face blank, clearly trying to hide how little of an idea of what she was doing she had. “Needle and thread would help.”

As Spider frantically searched her bag, Umbra gently set Kiara down next to them on the crystal. Kiara winced, and her demon withdrew, revealing the mangled leg. The area from roughly the top of her left leg to just above her knee was a ravaged mess of shredded muscle and blood. Bits of shattered bone were splattered throughout as well. Kiara’s face had drained to pale white. “Just take it off… it’s… gone…” she croaked.

Spider came up holding a pair of needles and strong thread. She saw Kiara’s leg and gulped. “Uh… UH.”

Chun knelt down over Kiara. “Spider, do me a favor? Hold her down? You might want help, too…” Fortunately at this point Kiara’s eyes had started to lose their focus, as the pain pills kicked in. Spider gripped her by the shoulders, trying to hold her steady.

“Kiara!” Chun said, and Kiara managed to make eye contact with her. “I need you to concentrate on keeping Umbra from killing me and Spider.” Kiara nodded, clenching her teeth, and Umbra flowed up around her hip, forming a makeshift tourniquet. Chun’s face went pale, and Torrential began fluttering his wings nervously. She took the scalpel and began carving away bits of flesh.

Seth stood next to Noh, leaning on him. If one good thing came out of that fight, it was the pack of cigarettes he’d found on the wrecked ship. He lit up.

Spider held onto Kiara tightly, as if to quiet her own anxiousness. She winced, trying to keep her eyes off of Chun’s work.

Reno sighed, watching Chun take out bits and pieces. "Look," she said "If you want this to be quick and some resemblance of painless, don't you think we should use something bigger?" Reno produced her now-serrated crystal dagger.

Chun shook her head. “Listen, if we’re not careful about that, we might paralyze her other leg.”

“This I can do.” Seth walked towards them, Noh floating along behind him. “Noh can do a pretty clean cut. We might want to use him instead of a dagger.”

Kiara gritted her teeth, apparently more coherent than they’d thought. “Use fucking Noh to do it if that’s what it takes, just take the damn thing off. You won’t—nngh—paralyze me as long as you stay below the hip.”

Chun frowned, biting her lip. “It makes sense, but we’ll need spare skin. I’ll cut a bit loose and you cut off the rest as quick as you can.”

Seth tried to stifle a shudder, and only half succeeded. “Just… just tell me where to cut.” He raised his arm, miming a blade with his hand. Noh sprouted a rather swordlike crystal appendage, mimicking him. Seth looked to Chun, waiting for the cue.

Chun quickly made two cuts and ripped back some skin that was still clinging to the dead useless muscle. She pulled it out of the way and nodded to Seth.

He brought his arm down, into air. Noh brought his arm down, into flesh, tendon, bone. It went straight through, clicking against the crystal below Kiara. The blade then receded as quickly as it had come out.

Kiara cried out with pain, but quickly choked it back, eyes squeezed tightly shut. Umbra tightened around her hip, slowing the bleeding as much as possible. Spider now held one of Kiara’s hands tightly, keeping her shoulders down with the other arm.

“Nice cut, much better than I could have done.” Chun immediately pulled the skin back down and grabbed the needle and thread from on top of her pack. “Shit, Reno, grab some bandages and try to stop some bleeding.”

“Right,” said Reno, reaching for the bandages with a speed somehow slower than that with which she had killed the pilot. She cut the bandages with her dagger before redepositing it in her holster.

Chun wiped the needle on her backpack and started stitching, an awkward uneven line that just got the job done. “Where’s the disinfectant?”

Spider quickly grabbed it and tossed it to Chun, not letting go of Kiara’s hand. She tried not to watch what was going on, but couldn’t help wincing as Kiara tightened her grip.

Seth’s eyes grazed Spider’s hand, holding Kiara’s. Abruptly, he turned away and walked into Noh. The demon instantly faded into a dark fog.

Chun grabbed the disinfectant. “This is going to sting.” She frowned and poured it over the awkwardly stitched wound. She turned paler, but grabbed a section of bandage and helped Reno cover as much of the stump as they could. She tied the bandages as tight as she could, watching as they stained solid red in moments.

Kiara, gritting her teeth, managed to get out a strangled, “Are you done yet?”

Chun leaned back, shaking and looking at her hands. “I… I think I am…” Torrential ruffled his feathers as if he was hit by a cold blast of air.

“It looks loads better now,” Spider said, attempting a smile.

“Well, there’s not much left TO look loads better,” said Reno. Gazing at the blood on her fingers, she picked up the smallest shred of bandage and wiped them clean.

Kiara looked down at what was left of her leg, then lay her head back. “That’ll… hold for a bit,” she said, then quite unceremoniously passed out.

Spider gave Reno a look, frowning.

“Hey, don’t give me that,” she said back. “You know it’s true.”

Chun cleaned her knife and the needle on a piece of bandage, put her knife away and slid her backpack on, then handed Spider the needle, thread, and remaining disinfectant. She got up slowly and walked to Torrential. She sunk down, leaning against Black’s leg.

Umbra grew from the shadows under and around Kiara, returning to her gryphon form and standing over her master’s body protectively. In her unconsciousness, Kiara let out a quiet whimper.

Spider put the supplies in her bag, and carefully slipped her hand out of Kiara’s. She went over and slumped next to Scorpia, resting her head against her demon’s carapace. She looked up into the empty fog ahead, and let out a sigh. “Well, shit,” she said shakily.

Friday, September 3, 2010


((76 — Confined))
July 1st, 802 AT.

The tram rolled down towards the dock, creaking as it went. This car wasn't like the others Kasby had seen--it was old and dilapidated, looking like a remnant of an earlier era. Clearly people didn't come down here from on high much.

The Storm District stretched out in front of the dusty windows, a vast expanse of corrugated gray and rust-red rooftops, narrow lines of darkness marking the alleyways between them. Here and there, lights cast pools of pale yellow in the otherwise-dim night.

Kasby stepped out of the tram car and pushed one side of his coat back to rest his hand loosely on the handle of the dartpistol. He walked out into the district, his boots thudding clearly through the empty streets. It was the second night since his arrival at Sector One, and he had yet to sleep. There had been reports of sightings of Jaz all over the city, but each had proven to be a dead end. Every time he felt like he might find her, he found nothing at all. He wasn’t about to stop looking, though.

Ahead of him, the door to one of the warehouses rolled open with a too-loud creaking. A short, roundish man covered in engine grease stepped out. The thick pair of black goggles over his eyes shone pale beams of light over Kasby, inspecting him. The man shook his head. "So you're all Inner could spare, eh? Not s'prised."

Kasby nodded at the man in a professional manner. A detached one. His eyes scanned the surroundings intensely.

The man wiped one hand on pants that probably only made it greasier, then extended it to Kasby. "M' name's Stern, Darryl Stern."

Kasby shook the man's hand tightly with his own gloved hand. "Kasby Bellflo—Bellwood."

Stern grunted in response, putting his hand back in his pocket. "And you're looking for the... creature." His mouth fouled up around the word, and a small shudder went through the man.

"Yes," Kasby said in a neutral, careful tone.

The older man laughed bitterly. "Shouldn't be too hard to find her."

Kasby's eyes drifted upwards, towards the rooftops. "Why do you say that?"

Stern stepped out of the doorway, clearing Kasby's view to inside, and jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "Just follow the bodies."

Inside the warehouse, half a dozen bodies were strewn, all in varying states of dismemberment. A trail of blood ran from one to the next and out the back door of the mostly-empty warehouse.

Kasby grimaced. His eyes were cold. Hard. "How are you still alive?"

The man faltered, eyes dropping. "I..." He coughed once, twice, then pushed his goggles to his forehead and looked Kasby square in the eyes. "I got the fuck out of that thing's way and didn't even try to stop it, that's how."

Kasby matched his stare. "No room for heroes in the Void, right?"

"Just survivors,” Stern said.

"And the walking dead," Kasby added to himself quietly as he walked past the shorter man. The captain began to follow the trail Jaz had left for him.

Stern said nothing as he left.

The path was easy enough. Blood and gore marked the men and women before him, long gouges left in their bodies, the mirror of gouges Kasby himself had left enough times to recognize.

The trail left the first warehouse, moving into the second, then a third, then a fourth. Over containers and cargo and spare parts. Where there wasn't gore and death, there was a steady trail of droplets of blood, fallen from the tip of the crystal blade.

Kasby followed the trail at first as if in a trance. His footsteps left soft echoes as his eyes went from drop to drop, wound to wound. The farther he went, the more he picked up speed. His tracking became frantic, his expression set in dead intensity.

As he went faster, the blood got fresher. One thing didn't change, though:

There were no wounded. Only the dead.

Kasby was at a full run, now, and his bootsteps thumped and rang out loudly throughout the warehouse. From ahead, the sound of a scream echoed towards him, reverberating through the warehouses like a megaphone. It stopped abruptly.

Kasby pulled the dartpistol from its holster and tore into the next warehouse, stopping a few feet inside.

The warehouse was full of old construction machinery. Dilapidated cranes sat rusting throughout. A grisly tableau was perched atop one of the cranes at the far end of the room.

She stood, back to Kasby, crystal blade held high, struck through the chest of a girl not much younger than Kasby. As he watched, the creature moved its arm and let the body drop to the floor dozens of feet below with a wet thud. It flicked the crystal blade, sending the blood running down its clear faces spattering away.

Kasby watched the spectacle coldly. His weapon was trained on the monster atop the crane. With a deft hand, he pulled the trigger. A tremor went through his body, shaking him to the core, as he fired a volley.

The crystal shards sliced through the air, leaving a quiet whistle in the air. Two shot past the creature. The third thudded into its shoulder. It dropped off the crane, howling in pain and anger. The fall became a flip, though, and it landed deftly into a roll, coming up whirling to face Kasby. Its eyes still glowed that bloodthirsty red, shining against blackened skin. The goggles lenses now permanently embedded into the thing's forehead shone with reflected red light, looking almost like a second set of eyes, eerily watching on behalf of someone--something--else.

Kasby's weapon was still pointed straight at the creature, but his hand trembled uncontrollably now. Jaz. His mouth formed the words, without any sound. Please.

The creature that had been his lover let out a shrieking cackle, and charged him.

Still holding his gun in his left hand, Kasby pulled Jaz’s crystal sword from its sheath at his side and raised it up to block her attack. The blow hammered in with all the force of her inhuman diving gait, an overhead swing full of rage and insanity. The twin blades met with a crash that filled the warehouse.

Kasby was thrown back by the force of the blow, but the blade did not shatter. His arm throbbed from absorbing the impact. He steadied himself before he fell and switched his balance, to hold the sword in something resembling a fighting stance.

She laughed, that sound that was almost familiar but horribly alien, and struck again, pushing forward. He swatted away her first attack with his blade. With his other hand, holding the dartgun, he tried to pistol whip the creature across the face. The hit caught the creature as it was still bringing its blade back up, slamming into its cheek and dropping it to the ground. Almost instantly, it lashed out with its sword, swinging wildly at Kasby's feet.

The blade sliced into one of Kasby's shins. He grimaced in pain but leapt backward using his other leg, curling into a roll and coming up in a shooting stance. He pulled the trigger again.

The creature was halfway to its feet when the crystal thudded into its left leg. It howled in agony, dropping to the ground and clutching at its wound with its hand.

Kasby pushed himself forward as he rose, throwing that momentum into a flying tackle. He hit the demon, hard, knocking it all the way flat. He used all of his weight to keep the creature down, and pressed the barrel of his pistol into her forehead.

It laughed again, thrashing against him, then seemed to cough and choke. A yellow sheen passed briefly over the lenses on its forehead, and it coughed again, this time exhaling a breath of yellow smoke.

Kasby's heart beat a staccato rhythm in his chest. He held the weapon in place, though he trembled everywhere.

The creature's solid red eyes squeezed closed, and a deep voice boomed out of the creature's mouth, powerful and male. "NOT YET. I STILL HAVE USE FOR THIS ONE." The yellow smoke swirled around Kasby, pouring out of nowhere to cover the demon he was pinning to the warehouse floor.

"NO!" Kasby screamed out against the yellow smoke. "DON'T TAKE HER!" He pressed himself down, gripping the deep, black skin tightly, the pistol having dropped from his fingers. "Not again!" he sobbed into the smoke.

His cries echoed through empty yellow mist. He was alone in the warehouse. He collapsed onto the crystal floor, his forehead pressed hard into the cool material. Though sobs wracked his body, his face remained dry. He had no tears left to shed.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


((75 — The Farthest Land))
July 1st, 802 AT.

The crystals hung in the air around them, silent witness to their long journey. After almost a month of freefall, they were finally nearing their destination. The two crew of the ship had found ways to occupy themselves, bit by bit. Owl had spent plenty of time practicing her editing, changing aspects of the world around her. Most of Emerson’s lab equipment had been changed into food or other living supplies. Skunk had convinced Owl to explain the basic workings of guns, and together they had edited and extruded the materials to make a pair of hand pistols.

Owl and Skunk now sat together on the top deck of Emerson’s ship, staring at the massive crystal ahead of them. Owl peered out at it, then back to the open notebook in her lap. "Snowflake!" she said aloud, jotting it down. "That's the word I wanted."

Skunk fiddled with a bullet, staring gloomily out at the huge crystal. She was impatient for something to do, something to fight. A month of almost complete inaction had left her with a severe case of cabin fever.

"Snow... flake...." The rememorist thought for a moment. "No. Those aren't as scary. I think." She crossed out what she'd written. "Unless it's a snowstorm. And you're a poet."

The radio on the control panel crackled. "Unknown ship, unknown ship, this is Sector One, do you read?" The voice was young, male, and sounded extremely tired.

Owl jumped. “Sector One!”

Skunk's face split in a rare, tiny smile.

Owl pressed down on the intercom button. "Hi, Sector One?"

“Hi. Another straggler from the refugee fleet?”

"Oh far-reaching fog... it's another person," Owl sighed. Into the intercom she said, "Not exactly. I don't think. We, um. We kind of… took this ship? But it wasn’t really stealing… it was, um.”

“Oh. Uh. From who?”

“Um. Doctor… what was it now… Emerson!”

"Crazy sonuvabitch he was, too,” muttered Skunk.

The voice fell silent a moment. "Uh. Okay. Who am I speaking to, exactly?"

"Oh, um. Owl?" Owl said. "And Skunk."

“…Owl. Right. Owl and Skunk.”

“…From Face.”

The voice over the radio let out a long sigh.

“Previously of Face,” Skunk said quietly.

Owl’s expression darkened. “Sorry. Um. Previously of Face,” she corrected into the intercom.

"Listen,” came the voice. “I've been landing ships for something like thirty-nine hours straight. So how about I send you the telemetry data for the landing fields, and then go back to sleeping on the console."

Owl frowned. "Young man, I don't think that's a very responsible thing to do," she reproached.

"Splendid," muttered Skunk darkly. "More lectures."

"Shh!" Owl hissed back.

"... I know it's not, but what with the riots, my co-workers are cut off." The voice sounded more and more tired by the moment. "So it's just me against the refugee hordes."

Skunk leaned over and spoke into the intercom. “That’s fine, great, just get us the stuff.”

Owl's face went blank. "The... the what now?"

"The refugees. Where are you from, lady? Sector Two or something?”

"No, I heard that. But you said RIOTS before. What riots?" Owl probed.

“You're coming from the direction of Sector Four..." He didn’t sound like he was listening.

"Um... Well. We were there,” Owl said. “But Face wasn’t.”

There was another long pause. "...I'm just gonna send you the telemetry data, okay?"

Skunk rolled her eyes. “That’s what I said to do earlier.”

Owl frowned, but answered, "Yes. We want the data."

"Now, unfortunately, the Outer Landing Fields filled up entirely, what with the refugee fleets and all."

"Okay... So where do we land?”

"Buuut Tanique Hall is shut down 'cause of the riots, so the roof of that is totally open."

"Send us this precious data already," Skunk growled.

"As long as you don't mind parking on top of a library, you should be able to set down there for the moment."

"Skunk, be patient, oka— LIBRARY?" Owl jumped up from her seat.

“Uh, yeah.” The radio operator paused. “Is that a problem?”

“Oh! No! We’ll land there! We’d be delighted!”

“Well, that’s settled then, yeah?” Skunk said. “So SEND US THE SHIT ALREADY.” Skunk's tone was bored and forceful. but her restless eyes betrayed her unease.

"Yeah, yeah. Coming up."

Owl giggled like a gleeful child. "Library," she sighed.

After a minute, the console beeped, a green light indicating receipt of the directions to land. "See you planetside. Sector One out."

"Thank you. Goodbye."

The beginnings of a tremendously loud yawn seeped through, then the radio beeped and fell silent.

"Okay, let's land!" Owl grinned, pressing a sequence of buttons.

"Yay," said Skunk unconvincingly.

“Oh, hey!” Owl said. “Want to try flying like we practiced?”

Skunk shrugged, but obligingly took the coiled wire from her belt. She walked to the back of the deck, and closed her eyes. Wrapping her hand around one end of the wire, she moved the other end out into the open air using her powers. It drifted along the deck, plugging into the metal of the control console.

With it connected, Skunk extended her consciousness into the panel itself, feeling out the metal levers and control knobs. Any touching metal was fair game, and she began to operate the controls from remote.

“Good, good!” Owl said. “A few more degrees forward.”

Slowly, working together, they brought the ship around the massive crystal, and towards the city.

After a few moments of no directions from Owl, Skunk opened her eyes. “Owl?” She looked over to see the older woman standing at the edge of the ship, looking down, jaw wide. Skunk walked to her, about to ask what she was looking at, when she saw it.

The city was a truly impressive sight. Skunk whistled. “Well, that’s… damn.”

“Uh huh.” Owl delightedly scanned the city below, taking in as much detail as she could. Halfway up one of the three large spires, she saw a broad expanse of green—what she recognized from her readings as a ‘forest.’ “Oh, trees!” She gushed, clapping her hands. “They make air!”

The screen in the console beeped again, scrolling up to show a map, all glowing green outlines. The data the young man had sent them was the coordinates to Tanique Hall, a spot most of the way up one of the spires.

“I’ll take control, Skunk,” Owl said, and the other woman detached her wire, recoiling it at her belt. Owl frowned as she stepped back to the console. “Ooh, I don’t like this angle,” she muttered.

“Hardly the worst thing we’ve said,” mused Skunk.

Tanique Hall was an old-looking building, a lone block set into the crystal slope further up than almost anything else. Massive columns lined its entrance, and large windows were set into the front of it. The top of it was large and flat, easily big enough to accomodate six ships the size of the one they were in.

“Impressive," admitted Skunk. “Now how about landing?”

"Hang on. This isn't like reading. It takes concentration." Owl wriggled her fingers on the wheel, then carefully positioned them above the roof. "Okay, here we go," she said, mostly to herself. "You can do this. We can do this we can do this we can do this..." Her shadow rearranged itself into the words we can do this we can do this we can do this... hey, I'm doing it right!

The engines on either side of the ship rotated softly, returning to directly vertical positions. With a quiet thunk, the ship came to rest on the roof of the building.

Owl let out the breath she didn’t realize she had been holding. “Okay. Library time.”

Skunk was staring off into the city, features blank and unreadable.

“Skunk? You ready to get out and about?”

The other woman sighed quietly. “At this point, I’m ready for anything.”

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


(A) Inner Chamber
(B) The Complex
(C) Articulate Gardens
(D) Tanique Hall
(E) Deepana
(F) Outer Landing Fields
(G) Defensive Platforms
(H) Bioresa
(I) Laboratoria
(J) Enjaya
(K) Academia
(L) Scholasta
(M) Montoya
(N) Storm District
(O) Jettiq
(P) Haraya


((72 — You Hurt Me))

The tram-car room was still for a moment. The woven-wood walls seemed to soak up the ongoing screams from outside, muting the world around them.

Kasby had fallen to his knees, the wooden dartpistol having clattered to the floor a meter away from him. He was shaking.

Goat landed next to him. “We’d better go chase her, Captain. C’mon!”

Zebra came running in, Giraffe close behind.. “You think any of us, with the exception of you, as is fast enough?”

“I’m gonna follow her, then!” Goat said. Holding his spear tight, he jumped onto the tram, and then out, vanishing into the city.

Kasby stayed as he was for another minute or so before planting his first unsteady foot and standing.

Barret ran in, slipping her wide metal cutlass back into a sheath on her back as she did. "Where's that last assassin?"

"Gone,” Kasby rasped.

She cursed under her breath, and put a hand to her temple. “Fine, fine. You three go to the Inner Chamber. I’ll catch up with you shortly.” Her tone was sharp, curt, and to the point. Not waiting to see if they did so, she turned and went back outside, presumably to do damage control.

Kasby went without a word of protest, walking into the jammed tram.

“Is someone going to tell them what’s going on?” Giraffe whispered, pointing to the citizens outside as she followed Kasby into the tram.

“Do you know what’s going on?” Zebra asked Giraffe pointedly.

“…good point.”

“Why thank you.”

A quiet moment later, Vojtek stumbled inside. He blinked at the tram car, then poked his head in. "Is there a reason you're all just sitting here?"

Kasby remained silent, staring off into space. Giraffe and Zebra could tell, having been around him so long—this was no blank stare, or one of pure sorrow. Lines of tragedy showed on his face, but Kasby's mind was racing with thought.

Vojtek grumbled unintelligibly, then flipped a large lever inside the tram car. The gears made half a turn and then crunched audibly. Vojtek rolled his eyes, "Ugh, jammed. Just be a minute." The large man stepped back out of the tram car, slipping a large wrench out of the pocket of his brown leather coat.

After a minute’s deliberation, Kasby pulled out his short-wave radio and clicked the talk button. “Goat, come in.”

Goat’s voice came back, along with the sound of rushing wind. “Aye, Captain?”

“Where are you?”

“In mid-air, sir!”

“Get back on track, Goat. Where is Jaz? Which was direction was she headed?”

There was a crunch from outside the tram, and Vojtek came back in. He coughed. “There, should be all fixed.”

A crashing sound echoed through Kasby’s transmitter, and he frowned at it. “Goat, come in. Where is she?” He wasn’t paying Vojtek a bit of attention.

The Transportation Secretary threw the lever again. This time, the gears did not catch on anything, and whirred to life, propelling the tram car up the cable. Vojtek grinned at his handiwork. "There, good as new!" He looked up at Kasby, and was immediately reminded of the situation. His face fell, and he let out a heavy breath.

"Goat, report!" Kasby raised his voice into the radio.

Goat's voice came back. "I'm over a large building with a roof that is flat!"

"Unhelpful, Goat. Landmarks? Streetnames?"

Vojtek sat heavily in a chair and turned to Giraffe and Zebra. “Sorry for the less-than-warm welcome…”

Zebra shrugged unconcernedly. Giraffe blinked at him, not impressed. The tram rolled on, back up towards the tower they had landed the Quinn on.

The radio crackled again. “I’ve lost her—” There was another crash. “—sir. But I think I know where she’s going! She’s heading for the crystal tower in the center of the city!”

“Meet us there, Goat. Kasby over and out.” The captain tucked the radio back in his coat and turned to Vojtek. "You might want to alert security that they have a storm coming their way," he suggested without any inflection.

"How do you mean, Captain? There's not much by way of weather in the Void."

"I mean they've got a murderous, skilled demonic assassin headed their way and they better be ready."

“…ah. Right.” Vojtek took a short-wave radio similar to Kasby's out of his pocket, and flipped it on. He mumbled into it for a moment, then tucked it back into the coat pocket it came from.

Kasby pulled the Warlock from its holster at his hip and checked the cartridge. "She's still better than me with the sword. I have to fight from a distance." Kasby said, once again in a neutral tone. He clicked the safety off of the magic-slinging monster of a pistol.

The uncomfortable silence finally ended as the tram car clicked into place in the dock at the crystal tower. Kasby stepped out of the door without giving any of the others a glance, his eyes focused and cold.

The inside of the room was a wild cordon of action. Half a dozen men and women in brown uniforms surrounded the door to the car, matching guns drawn.

Vojtek stepped out and gestured, and the soldiers put their weapons up, letting the five of them past. He spoke to their commander as he passed. "Any sign of the assassin?"

"None, sir," she replied curtly.

The large man let out an angry puff of air, and walked out onto the inner balcony of the tram station, gesturing for the crew to follow. "I'll take you to the Inner Chamber. Mercuria will be with us shortly."

Kasby followed, weapon still clenched in one hand, not making eye contact with anyone. Giraffe sighed and followed, with Zebra following considerably more casually. Goat leapt into step next to them.

The grand concourse below the balcony was a wild hustle of frenzied action, people rushing to and fro in a chaotic mess. Here and there, officers in uniform tried and failed to keep things in order.

Vojtek ducked into a waiting elevator, with the others close behind. He tapped a button, and the doors slid closed. There was a now-familiar sensation of vertical motion for a moment, and the doors opened again.

The hexagonal room they exited into was clearly at the top of the tower. A large C-shaped table filled most of the room, with six chairs arranged around the outside. The walls were large windows, looking out over the city below. The floor at the center of the room, in the middle of the table, was a map of the city cut from various colored metals.

Goat jumped out of the elevator and scanned the room for Jaz, twirling his spear.

Vojtek went and sat down halfway around the table. As Zebra sat down herself, he half stood again. “Wait, that’s Suraya’s…” His voice trailed off as his mind caught up to instinct, and he sat heavily back down.

Zebra looked away, and didn’t say anything.

After fumbling with his spear, Goat perched on a chair, crouching on his powerful legs. Kasby stood by one end of the table, Warlock still drawn, eyes unmoving.

After a minute, the uncomfortable silence was broken by the elevator's doors opening again. Mercuria Barret strode into the room, silver hair now tied up in a bun. She growled angrily and spun to Kasby. "What the hell is going on, Bellwood? I think you owe me an explanation.”

Kasby paused. “I at least owe you that much,” he said, maintaining the calm voice.

Barret’s eyes jumped from Goat to Zebra to Giraffe. "Give me one good reason I shouldn't shoot your entire crew right now for being demons."

“The girl who controls fire wouldn’t like it?” Zebra said calmly.

Barret whirled on her. “Yes. The girl who controls fire.”

Giraffe raised a hand halfway. “That’d be me.”

"If you hadn't killed those assassins, you'd have a bullet in your brain right now, little girl. Do I make myself clear?"

“Sure do,” replied Giraffe. “It’s clear we saved your bloody ass.”

“Don’t you dare threaten my crew.” Kasby responded in the same calm voice he had been maintaining, but it had an unmistakable edge. He was not one to push today.

The Councilor scoffed. "This is my city, Bellwood. You do not tell me what to do."

In response, Kasby set the Warlock down on the table and pulled a holodisc from his pocket, tossing it to Vojtek. "Play that on your holo projector. It's the last data I collected before I left Sector 7."

Vojtek just barely caught it, fumbling with it a moment. He slipped the disk into the table, calling up a screen built in to the table. After a moment, he gestured for Mercuria to look at the data on his screen. She walked into the middle of the table, and did so. As she looked through the data, she scowled.

Kasby slowly pulled a second disc from his pocket and slid it along the table. “From Sector Four.”

Vojtek slipped it into the table as well, and the two of them tapped through it. “Oh,” Vojtek murmured. “Oh… this is…”

Barret stood slowly, her back to the crew. “I don’t like you, Bellwood. I want to make that clear.”

“I don’t care,” he replied.

“I don’t like you either!” asserted Goat. Zebra grunted in agreement.

“Unfortunately,” Barret continued. “You and your crew are the only ones who’ve seriously dealt with these… things… and lived. That makes you useful to me.”

“And what happens after we stop being useful?” Giraffe asked acidly.

“Then I stop using you.” Barret turned to the crew, arching an eyebrow. “So. I’m enlisting all four of you. I’m going to need full disclosure here. Everything you know about these things, and how we can stop them. Sector One has repelled countless demon attacks before, but I'm not stupid. This is different. You four are going to make sure that this city does not fall."

“Is it just me, or does this sound familiar?” Giraffe said quietly to Goat and Zebra.

Zebra shrugged back. “And we know how it turned out last time.”

“We’ll do what we can.” Kasby picked the Warlock up off the table. “Right now, though, worry about keeping yourselves alive. There’s an assassin out for your blood, and she was headed here. I don't think your guards are going to be able to stop it, Barret."

“I can protect myself. I'm the Defense Secretary for a reason, Bellwood." She paused. “That assassin. All of you knew her. How?”

Kasby slid the Warlock into its holster. "Nothing but a familiar face, Barret."

“When Face fell, she saved us,” Goat said.

“I’m not interested in metaphors. Who is she?”

“She’s a demon,” Kasby said. He walked away from the conversation to the great windows, looking out at the city beneath.

“That was no metaphor," said Goat quietly.

She turned to him. “Then explain it, child. Face?”

“It was our home,” Giraffe interjected.

Goat nodded. “A city on the face of a cell.”

Barret frowned. “What Sector?”

The boy shrugged. “We didn’t know about Sectors until Face was destroyed.”


“We were told that Face was a holding cell for some kind of demon,” Giraffe said. “No one there knew until it was too late.”

“We didn’t have these big flying metal ships, or the knowledge of them,” Goat said. “We didn’t know about anything beyond the city, the cell, the void, and our imaginations.”

“All we knew was Face and our humble lives there,” Giraffe added. “This was before we had these demon powers.”

Barret stared for a moment, then called out to Kasby. “Bellwood, what the hell is your crew talking about?"

“If you want to know what the hell we’re talking,” Goat said, standing up to look Barret in the eyes. “Shut the fuck up and listen to us.”

The older woman calmly backhanded Goat sharply across the face. "If you want me to understand, then start making sense, child."

“I definitely don’t like you,” Goat said, glaring defiantly at her.

“They’re from the Templar, Barret,” said Kasby, not turning away from the window. “Descendants of survivors.”

Vojtek sat up. “That’s impossible!”

Barret shook her head at him. "Nothing's impossible. Just very unlikely."

“We’re here, aren’t we?” Giraffe asked Vojtek sarcastically.

He looked at her incredulously. “So you’re saying that the Templar… landed on one of the crystals? And the crew survived for eight hundred years?

“Listen to the girl,” said Kasby. “My crew are living proof.”

“Yeah. We’re their descendants,” said Goat impetuously.

Kasby looked down at the intercom to downstairs on the table and activated it briefly. "Guards, report. Anything unusual?"

The intercom crackled. "Nothing unusual."

"Keep a tight perimeter. Nothing comes in or out from now on, understand? Watch the ventilation shafts. Report back if you notice anything odd."

The voice came through the intercom again. "Understood."

Kasby sat down at one of the seats. Laying the crystal sword in front of him, he closed his eyes and breathed quietly.

Barret slowly circled the room with her eyes, looking suspiciously at the crew. "So are all of the Templar descendants freaks like you, or did your powers come from somewhere else?"

“I’m not a freak,” Giraffe snapped.

“We weren’t born with powers, if that’s what you mean,” said Zebra slowly.

“If we had been, perhaps Face would still exist,” Goat mourned.

“So the Templar’s gone, then?” Barret crossed her arms. “What happened to it?”

“A demon was nesting in the center of Face,” replied Giraffe. “It was trying to worm its way out.”

Barret nodded. “And you got your powers on its way out.”

“They didn’t show up until a bit later, but yeah,” said Zebra.

“We were sent to figure out what was happening to Face,” Giraffe explained. “Cracks were forming and no one knew why. We made our way into the heart of Face through the cracks.”

“Jaz was as suspicious as you are about our powers.” Goat hadn’t stopped glaring at Barret. “But much nicer about it.”

Giraffe raised an eyebrow. “Lucky you. Kasby wanted to kill us over them.”

“Hmph.” Barret started pacing the center of the room. “So. I’m guessing the assassins were people who got… remade… by those things from your data.”

“Yes.” Kasby spoke without opening his eyes.

"Well, we're going to show those demons that what they did was entirely futile. This city will run perfectly fine without the Council. The infrastructure is solid and sound, we've seen to that."

"Yes, you've proven yourself strong enough to impose a fascist hold without much trouble."

"Captain Bellwood. You would do well to remember your place in this city. You are here to help defend it from an impending demonic invasion, NOT make snide comments about how it is run."

“Oh, I think we can do both,” Goat said quietly.

Kasby held his hands up in surrender. “Right. Outsider. Apologies.”

Giraffe wasn’t about to let it go so easily. “I think you would do well to remember that you need us. You can’t deal with these demons without our help.”

Mercuria's scowled deepened. "Coordinator Ammon was with the refugee fleet. I'm going to wake him up and talk to him. Secretary Vojtek will show you to your quarters. Good day."

Kasby’s eyes opened and he sat up. “Don’t leave the building—”

Not listening, she stormed into the elevator, and the doors slid shut behind her.

"...Fuck. She has no idea of the danger she's in." He turned to Vojtek. "Is there another elevator?"

Vojtek shook his head. "We've, um, prepared rooms for you in a private apartment right nearby in the Montoya Heights..."

Kasby paid him no mind, frantically hitting the return button on the elevator. It dinged, politely informing him that the elevator was in use.

Vojtek spoke quietly. "No one's going to hurt her, Captain. She was captain of the police force before she was Defense Secretary. Used to compete in martial arts tournaments and such. There's not a single person in the entire city who can match her. Even at her age."

Kasby turned to Vojtek. "Are you willing to take that chance? She is the one real leader this city has left—no offense. I'm not going to risk Sector One on her being in top physical form."

"I don't have much of a choice, Captain." He sighed. "You might've noticed that she's... not particularly good at listening to others' advice."

"Well I do have a choice. This isn't her battle to fight anyway. It's not like she can stop me from protecting her."

“She could hit you,” Zebra volunteered.

"Your funeral, I suppose. Am I going to be completely useless, or are some of you planning on following me to your quarters?" The large man's voice was slow and exasperated.

“Just tell me where they are, will you?” Goat said. “I need to blow off some steam. By leaping.”

“…I’ll show you on the map, I suppose.”

The elevator doors dinged and slid open. Not waiting for the others, Kasby stepped inside and turned around with an odd, sad little smile for the bigger man. "Sorry, Vojtek. I've got a tumultuous romance to finally put an end to. Hopefully I'll see you soon." He pushed the door-close button, and the elevator descended.